Offline vs Online: A Survey on Consumer Preference of Buying a Mattress

Consumer Preference on Offline vs Online Buying of a Mattress

Though E-commerce is growing faster than any other retail sector, the opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers isn’t extinct, just shifted to the Offline vs Online battle of buying a mattress.

Without much ado let us jump directly to the point. In a survey that we did on online buying preferences of Offline vs Online, an overwhelming majority of 55 percent said that they are always looking out to buy mattresses online. We’ll pause here for a second to look at this survey result as this flies in the face of common knowledge in the industry which is that consumers don’t buy bulky, complex, pricier goods like a sleeping mattress online except mobile phones or laptop computers.

One respondent went on to say that he bought his first mattress five years ago online and they will always buy a mattress online because that saves them time and energy and gives them a better price choice. One of the biggest concerns people have buying online especially, goods like mattresses, is whether “I get what I see.” Online buyers on Amazon, Flipkart and other branded online stores often get to see a catalogue of products and a zoom-in zoom-out feature providing a closer look at the fabric and its colour. But what they miss out on is the touch and feel of the product. “The most important factors that make a good mattress are the support and comfort,” says a respondent. The popular belief in the industry is consumers would like to buy electronic goods or other household items which has been negated by this survey.

“The advent of Internet-first mattress companies which offer better online shopping experiences have become extremely popular among consumers in the group of 25 to 40,” says Bhagawan, a mattress retailer in Malleswaram in Bangalore. Internet mattress companies first made their mark in the U.S. market by bringing in new concepts like easier returns, and better unpacking experience for the customer. Companies like Casper introduced the unique packing technology which made it easier for mattress manufacturers to ship mattresses to buyers’ homes using regular parcel services like UPS and FedEx. In India, companies followed suit but also went on to add physical experience stores for people to come in, sleep, and get that much-needed experience. “Mind it, they did not call their physical stores as a physical retail store but they called them sleep labs or sleep experience centres,” says Bhagawan.

Online Buying Habits

Online buying has taken new dimensions where retailers can penetrate remote markets places beyond their local and neighbour markets. Today, a mattress retailer can sell a mattress to consumers and request the principal to fulfil the order. “We have heads of companies in a larger city fulfilling orders in a smaller town but not the other way round and that is the power of online selling,” says Keshav Sharma, head – IT in a supermarket in Mysore. This experience shows that selling online is not a single-dimension approach but can take a hybrid model where people can walk into a store, choose the mattress they want, place an order online, make the payment online and get the mattress delivered home. In this model, the need to visit a mattress store is also taken care and the experience is made zero-touch, a much-needed approach these days. “Most of the buyers who walk into the store would be already informed about the brand, the price of each mattress, and model and they would have made up their mind on the brand and model they want to buy, thanks to online marketplaces like Amazon and Flipkart,” says Bhagawan.

Survey results – Highlights:

• 55 percent of people are willing to buy a mattress online.
• 40 percent of the respondents are willing to buy a mattress depending on the brand.
• 70 percent of the respondents buy from online marketplaces at least once a month.
• 50 percent of the respondents prefer online buying to in-store buying due to zero-touch experiences.
• 20 percent of the respondents have already bought a mattress online

Nuances of online buying

Now that the myths are behind us, it is important to understand a few nuances of online buying. The survey throws light here again. Out of the 20 percent of respondents who have already bought a mattress online, a significant 3 percent said they may not prefer to buy online again because they found the product experience to be different from their expectations. This gives us a good insight into how to organize online marketplaces in alignment with customer expectations. “One retailer that I know sells online, delivers the mattress to buyers and offers to take it back if they didn’t like the experience within one month,” says Bhagwan. “And in that trial period, the retailer closely follows up with the customer and ensures that he answers all the queries to the satisfaction of the customer and in turn returns reduce drastically.”

The crux of the matter in online buying is “experience”. One of the little things we found that was coming in the way of online selling is this age-old adage: goods once sold, are not returnable. While it had its place in another era, taking it too literally and the nature of the online marketplace where a direct human interface is absent makes it appear like a one-way Street – and unacceptable to buyers. Once you sell a mattress to a buyer, especially online, it is what you need to follow through digital means or telephone calls to show that there is someone to turn to when in trouble – this is important for the customers. “After-sales communication in online sales is the most crucial part of customer satisfaction and retaining the customers,” says Ram Samtani, a retailer in Bangalore.

Online sales are thought up as just another delivery model. Rather it is an entirely different experience model and the key stakeholder in this workflow is the customer. “Online sales have opened up customer relationship management in completely new ways and most online players haven’t understood this well enough. Those that have, like the big ones continue to grow consistently,” says Jay Ram, an ERP and CRM consultant. Most companies that we surveyed approached online sales just like any other sales outlet where customer interaction is handled by a single person doubling up as a help desk, troubleshooter, inquiry desk, order fulfilment desk, etc. It is essential to think through the entire process from, the factory floor or the warehouse, to the customer’s home.

Companies looking to sell online should identify customer touchpoints at every stage throughout this workflow and assign capable teams to handle each stage. Special skills, knowledge and know-how required to fulfil customer queries at each state need to be identified and those need to be imparted through training to the customer interaction teams. “When we talk of online sales we’re not talking of the absence of human model rather online is just a convenience channel and it requires more investment in human resources trained to handle customer queries,” says Arul Swami, a mattress supplier in Salem.

Online buying is still maturing in India. The pandemic may have speeded up the process where people go to online stores to buy. Only 30 percent of the respondents in our survey bought fashion accessories/clothing during the pandemic; otherwise, the preferred choice was to walk into a store to buy these items. Likewise, a mattress is an experience product and people will still like to experience it before buying. “We have these local mattress makers who go from household to household offering to make their mattress by breaking their old mattress and by using the old cotton or filling. We have to bring in a similar model with local mattress artisans who can go from household to household, place the order online using a mobile device, show them physical catalogues, and measure their cots and beds to help the consumer visualize how the final mattress will lay on the cot and bring in all the elements that one looks at in an in-store experience when customers step in,” says Bhagawan.

Mattress selling and Online

It was also interesting to find how online buying can be an effective way for mattress companies to upsell. Upselling accessories or a second mobile phone for a family member can be a good pointer for the mattress industry. “I’ve seen companies build a good online marketplace that brings up related products in a popup just before check-out or just as the potential customer is navigating away from the page,” says Ram.

“Many times, this can be an exercise in futility. Bringing up related products without care and concern for the kind of product the customer has bought earlier or is interested in can mark the customer experience online.” Our survey respondents did throw light on this fact of Offline Vs. online preferences of consumers buying a mattress. Very few companies were able to throw up good and relevant products in an unobtrusive way without enforcing a decision on consumers. “We can achieve this in a hybrid online marketplace where the product selection and order-placing takes place online and local company representatives can visit the household for further customization,” says Bhagawan.

Online sales are an implicit part of the future of retail sales. One has to understand the nuances of this new phenomenon and keep innovating daily to deliver customer experiences. Buying online doesn’t mean the absence of human interfaces but it only means enhancing customer convenience. A WordPress E-Commerce plugin or an online catalogue will not make you an online marketplace. You should have the complete workflow optimized for the online buying experience.

Own e-commerce Vs E-Commerce Platforms

Javed Ahmed, one of the leading merchants of Home décor products says that he prefers to sell his products on his own e-commerce platform rather than some of the established platforms like Amazon or Flipkart. He says there is a huge commission needs to be paid to these platforms on each sale. Also, he says they will pay the money only when the product is sold. Till that time, our product will be in their inventory.


Unhappy customers are the same liability for both online and offline sales. Customer service becomes paramount and it is not negotiable. More importantly, in both the channels human interactivity is important. Also, retailers need to find avenues for improvement.

ISPF is an industry body which promotes importance of sleep and role of mattress for a Indian consumers. ISPF plays very important role in connecting Indian bedding industry ecosystem. ISPF also acts as bridge between India and international players.